What does your Upwork profile picture say about you? Ideally, that you're a friendly, hardworking professional excited to take on new projects. Your profile picture is the first impression you make with a client and helps to establish trust and confidence. The right picture can help you stand out when building a freelance career on Upwork and attract the clients you want.
Don't worry if you don't have suitable pictures of yourself to use! You can take the perfect Upwork profile picture at home without a professional photographer. Many of the newer smartphones have built-in cameras with high resolution. This how-to guide will help you take the perfect Upwork profile picture.
- Find your best light
- Simplify the background
- Focus on the face
- Find the right facial expression
- Dress for the job you want
- Get ready for the photoshoot
- Try multiple angles and poses
- Don't overedit
- Test your new profile picture
- Upwork profile examples do’s and don’ts
1. Find your best light
Lighting is everything when it comes to taking the perfect picture for your Upwork profile. The right lighting can give an "okay" picture the "wow" factor. Natural and indirect lighting is typically the best choice for taking a great headshot. Overhead lighting and direct sunlight tend to create unflattering shadows or glares—plan for a slightly overcast day if you want to shoot outdoors.
Creating the proper lighting indoors can be more challenging. If you want to take your picture indoors, ring lights tend to be the best lighting choice for a natural look. When using artificial lights, try to place them just above eye level and experiment with different angles to see what reduces the shadows best.
Tip: Cooler blue lights are typically more flattering than yellow office lights.
2. Simplify the background
When setting up your photo shoot, consider your picture background choices. The focus should be on you, not the background. Choose something that is neutral and complements rather than distracts. You are the star of the show.
The background could vary from industry to industry and what you want to convey with your picture. Plain backgrounds with solid colors are a popular choice. You could add texture with brick or an outdoor wall. Those working in a creative position may want to infuse a bit of personality and take a picture outside with plants or nature in the background.
If you want to take your picture in your home office or outdoors, you can keep the emphasis on you by using the bokeh effect and blur the background.
Pro tip: Many smartphones have "Portrait Mode," which uses the bokeh effect.
3. Focus on your face
The standard professional headshot crops from the shoulders and upward, the face being the focal point. You can take a wider picture and crop it down so just the top of your shoulders and head are showing. While you can play around with different angles, try to have your whole face showing and make eye contact with the camera.
The goal is to look confident and approachable. You can angle your shoulders to whatever feels natural, but look at the camera and be yourself. Cropping and angling a picture can make it look professionally done. Try placing the camera at eye level or slightly above eye level for the most flattering angle.
4. Find the right facial expression
Being in front of the camera can feel awkward at first. Many people dislike having their pictures taken. A good Upwork profile picture looks natural. You want to get your best angle without appearing overly posed. Once you figure out your body positioning, it's time to consider your facial expressions.
A nice smiling picture is an easy go-to. When you genuinely smile in a photo, you seem more trustworthy and friendly. The facial expression you make in your profile picture can depend on your role and what personality traits you think are most important. If your role calls for a more formal demeanor, like a legal consultant or finance executive, you may want to skip the smile. Someone working in marketing or art may choose to laugh in their picture to show individuality.
Test out your facial expressions in the mirror. This might feel weird at first, but you can practice different smiles to see what looks best. If the mirror feels too strange, take some test shots or selfies beforehand with your phone to get a feel for what you want to do. Play around with different ideas until you find one that works.
5. Dress for the job you want
What should you be wearing in your Upwork profile picture? Dress for the job you want. Like the background, your outfit should subtly enhance the photo without being too distracting. Avoid excessively bright and loud patterns that take attention away from your face.
Even if you're working from home, your Upwork profile picture shouldn't be too casual. Those working in creative and tech may want to dress slightly more laidback, opting for a sweater or blazer rather than a power suit like someone in data analytics or architecture may choose.
Upwork profile outfit tips:
- Iron or steam your clothes the night before--wrinkles can be more noticeable on camera
- Wear something that is flattering and helps you to feel confident
- Choose a few different outfits--take shots in each to see what you like best
- Pick clothes that contrast with the background and your skin and hair color so your features stand out
- Wear glasses if you usually wear glasses—but remove the lens (if you can) to remove any glare
- Test the outfit in a few pictures and crop it down to see how it looks—a shirt may suddenly look very low cut or awkward when resized
- Avoid baggy clothes—clothes that fit nicely but aren't too tight tend to photograph best
- Adding a sweater or blazer can quickly dress up an outfit and make it look more professional
6. Get ready for the photoshoot
Photoshoot time! If you're feeling creative, you can set up a tripod and do a DIY profile picture photoshoot. Many cameras and smartphones have timers or can connect to Bluetooth remotes so you can take your own pictures. The photo shoot may be easier if you have a friend who can help, and bonus points if they have a camera that takes high-resolution pictures.
Are you planning on wearing makeup for the shoot? You want to look like yourself in your profile picture. The amount of makeup you wear should match how much you'd put on for an interview or client meeting. Test-run your makeup and take a couple of selfies to see how it appears on camera. A good translucent or lightly tinted face powder (setting powder) can help your skin look less reflective and shiny in the pictures.
Profile picture tips:
- Set the camera or smartphone to the highest resolution, so you're photos come out crisp
- Choose your favorite pictures, then get second opinions from friends and family
- Try out different locations and outfits, so you have options
- Create a mood-boosting music playlist that helps you feel like you're ready to take on the world to blast during the shoot
7. Try multiple angles and poses
Posing for your Upwork profile picture may feel staged, and a bit uncomfortable, but the right angles and poses can make a big difference. Clients are hiring you for your expertise, not your appearance, but your profile picture is an essential piece of the puzzle. You want to show that you're confident in your abilities and are ready to take on their challenge.
Tip: If you have a friend taking pictures, have them try the shot from different angles as you do different poses.
Poses to try:
- Angle your body 45 degrees and turn to face the camera
- Turn your body 90 degrees and look back at the camera
- Cross your arms over your chest—this is a power pose
- Put your hands on your hips
- Lean up against the backdrop sideways and cross your arms for a different over-the-shoulder variation
- Sit on a chair or stool, and lean in with your chin resting in your hand
- Lean an arm up against a railing or chair
- Tilt your chin higher up than normal to avoid looking down at the camera
- Try angling your face slightly away from the camera while maintaining eye contact—this is typically a more flattering angle for most people
- Lean into the camera slightly—many people naturally pull back when getting their picture taken
- Notice if your tensing your body and try to loosen your muscles
- Smile with your eyes, think of something funny and try to laugh genuinely
8. Don't over edit
Nowadays, you don't need to know Photoshop to edit your pictures; there's an endless supply of user-friendly photo editing tools. Some are already built into your smartphone and social media apps. You can play around with the lighting and do light touch-ups, but try to avoid over editing your Upwork profile picture.
Over editing a photo can be distracting and look unnatural. You don't want a client spending too much time looking at your picture because it seems "off" and they're trying to figure out why.
Digitally changing your background can be tempting. It may seem easy to take a picture against a plain wall and then add a cool setting. Rarely does changing out a background work unless you use a green screen because it's hard to edit each individual strand of hair and the outcome tends to look unnatural.
Too much editing can make you appear less confident. Touching up a few things is okay, but you definitely want to still look like you. Your profile picture is you at your best and should resemble you during a video call.
Some apps can change your hair color, add makeup, or make you look ten years younger, but they rarely look organic. When in doubt, try to be as natural as possible and minimize the editing needed. Stick to subtle lighting changes or remove a blemish unless you're a pro with editing tools. Clients are hiring you for your skills, not what you look like.
Upwork profile picture checklist:
- At least 250 x 250 pixels
- No more than 4000 x 4000 pixels
- Accepted extensions: .jpeg, .png or .gif
- Max size is 5 MB
9. Test your new profile photo
How we see ourselves can be different than how others see us. Before uploading your new Upwork profile picture, run a few tests first to make sure you picked a winner and that it conveys the message you're looking for.
Select at least three of your favorites with a variety of different poses, backgrounds, and outfits (if possible).
How to test your new profile photo:
Run an Instagram poll. Get honest feedback from your followers on Instagram by adding your favorites to your story with the poll sticker. You can choose your "Close Friends List" on Instagram and only show it to friends and family or open it up to all of your followers. Make sure to add a cover slide informing them what the picture is for.
Create a small focus group. Pick out a few colleagues, friends, and family members and send them your different headshot options. Ask them to write down what words come to mind when they see each photo.
Online feedback. If you don't want feedback from people you know, ask an online community like Photofeeler. You can post your pictures and then get feedback from others on the site.
Upwork profile examples: do’s and don'ts
These examples will help you see what works and doesn't work for a great Upwork profile picture. The time and effort you put into your profile picture will pay off once you start winning proposals and interviewing with clients. Finding the right picture is an important step in completing your Upwork profile. Once you have a great picture, you can start working on your pitches and proposals.
Here are some examples of do vs don’t for your Upwork profile picture:
Even if you’re looking away from the camera, try to maintain eye contact to help make a connection with your potential clients. Looking away is less personal and can appear less confident. The background of this profile picture is nice and simple, but the overall lighting is too dark.
- Look at the camera
- Find a spot with good lighting
This picture looks much more professional due to the better lighting and body positioning. Blurring the background puts the focus on the face.
- Blur the background if needed
- Smile and make eye contact with the camera
While this profile picture was taken in an office setting, there’s too much clutter and background noise. Instead of being cropped closely, you can see most of the upper body and arms.
- Choose a simple background
- Remove any clutter
- Only show from the shoulders up
The background is much simpler in this picture. He’s smiling, and the picture has good lighting.
- Cropped picture to highlight the face
- Flattering natural indoor lighting
While this picture has good lighting and a nice simple background, it’s hard to see the face. Profile pictures are small, so it’s important to have your face taking up a good portion of the frame.
- Picture was taken too far back
- Confident posing
The same image is usable as a profile picture—it just needed to be cropped down some.
- Genuine smile
- Image closely cropped to show face
While this picture is fun, it’s not the most professional option. The background is distracting, and the sunglasses cover her eyes. Eyes are important for building trust and recognizing what someone looks like.
- Clothing is too casual
- Setting is informal
Changing the setting to a plain background and wearing formal clothing helps to make the picture more professional and suitable for a profile picture. The face is fully visible and smiling which helps establish trust and confidence.
- Flattering background
- Simple and professional clothing
- Smiling at the camera
Start winning proposals with your profile picture
Once you have the perfect picture for your Upwork profile, you can start bidding on proposals that fit your skill set. Make sure the rest of your profile is 100% complete to be competitive and impress clients. Sending a great proposal and having a stand-out profile (complete with a great picture!) is how you win proposals and start building your career on Upwork. Explore the opportunities on Talent Marketplace™ and start submitting proposals to jobs that excite you. Clients on Upwork post over 10,000 jobs each day and are looking for independent professionals, just like you, to help their teams complete projects.